Published: Thu, October 11, 2018
Science | By Patricia Jimenez

Michael downgraded to tropical storm, but still packing a punch

Michael downgraded to tropical storm, but still packing a punch

Hurricane Michael has strengthened to a category two storm, with winds topping 100mph (155km/h) as it churns towards the Florida coast. Its sustained winds were just 2 miles per hour (3.2 kph) shy of an extremely rare Category 5.

Already regionally historic for being the first recorded Category 4 storm to batter the Florida Panhandle, Hurricane Michael is also rewriting national record books: It's the strongest by wind speed to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The coastal areas of Destin and Panama City have dense clusters of beachfront homes, condominiums and hotels that are at risk from the storm surge.

Only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher have struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005. "Historically, hurricanes that approach the Florida coast in this area tend to weaken slightly prior to landfall, but little difference in impact related to wind and storm surge is likely regardless", Kottlowski said. Residents can expect gusty winds, thunderstorms, locally heavy flooding and possible isolated tornadoes for most of the day.

With the hurricane still pounding the state hours after it came ashore, and conditions too risky in places for search-and-rescue teams to go out, there were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries. Tropical storm warnings cover 8.5 million people in several states.

At the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Wednesday evening, Gov. Rick Scott gave an update on Hurricane Michael.

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Mandatory evacuations are underway in Bay County, which includes Panama City, and Gulf and Franklin counties.

Scott has declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties, mostly encompassing rural areas known for small tourist cities, beaches, wildlife reserves and Tallahassee, the state capital.

It was the most powerful tropical storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851. You can not hide from this storm.

By 12 a.m. EDT Thursday, the storm's winds had dropped to tropical storm strength with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour and it was moving northeast at 17 miles per hour.

NOAA's National Hurricane Center or NHC noted on October 9 that life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall can be expected along the northeastern gulf coast as Michael continues to move toward landfall.

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Michael was a monster storm by wind speed around the time it made landfall.

"Our biggest threat is the storm surge of about 2-4 feet", Hurts said.

Case said Entergy and Georgia Power are part of a nationwide mutual-assistance agreement in which one company can request assistance during a natural disaster.

Damaging winds are expected in Florida, southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.

"It's our first storm (forecast) to be on top of us", Mollie Williams, a 17-year resident, said warily. A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Alabama/Florida border to Suwannee River Florida, and a Hurricane Watch is in effect from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border. Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires.

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Among them was Betty Early, 75, a retiree who joined about 300 fellow evacuees huddled on makeshift bed rolls of blankets and collapsed cardboard boxes at an elementary school converted into an American Red Cross shelter in Panama City, near the storm's expected landfall. "And I just hope the others that have not made that decision get out while the roads are still passably and before the bridges close".

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